By age twelve I had already decided that motherhood wasn't for me, in part because I didn't want to risk subjecting a child to the same kind of screwed-up childhood I was experiencing myself. Imagine my surprise then when decades later I've ended up doing a form of mothering anyway, in a classic case of role reversal with my aging mom. And while there are challenges to taking care of a parent who didn't particularly take good care of you, there are rewards as well. These include closure, working through unresolved issues, grieving a relationship that never was, and providing the kind of nurturing and caring that my younger self craved but didn't receive enough of. And as odd as it may sound, providing this kind of care for someone else is self-nurturing too. I can even see how having had my own kids may have speeded up this healing process, although biologically it's too late for that now. Which isn't to glamorize or minimize any of the hard work involved in taking care of a living being, whether they're eight months old, or eighty-eight years.
But while today celebrates the role of mothering, I would argue that it's a role we don't really value. We don't define it particularly well, or even give much thought as to whether we should take it on. Folk who opt out of parenthood are often characterized as being selfish and shallow, whereas those who don't give it a second thought, who automatically assume that that's what people do, are lauded as being unselfish and giving. Never mind overpopulation and the various environmental implications. This isn't to say that no one should have kids, but that anyone contemplating having them ought to give serious thought as to the consequences, because not doing so is the actual selfish and shallow act. Parenting, in my view, should be thought of as a privilege rather than a right, and with rights come responsibilities.
Because what other enterprise in our society is as unregulated, unlicensed and unreviewed? Do anything else -- drive a car, buy a gun (in itself an insane act, in my opinion), or enter any number of professions -- and you'll likely need a licence or at least some form of training. But become a parent, and hey, no demonstration of skills or aptitude required. Parenting has to be one of the least paperless activities around, even though it's purported to be the most difficult task there is. Hmmm.
And as for value, what do we pay people to be parents? To prepare the next generation to become responsible and model citizens? What is this most important work worth? Then compare that to what we pay hockey players, basketball stars, actors, CEO's, and whatever redeeming title you can manage to come up with for anyone whose last name is Kardashian, and it boggles the mind.
What about all the shelters, programs and services set up for domestic abuse victims? Women and children mainly, although men fall prey as well at times. Take Back The Night has been around forever it seems, and the stats on sexual assault don't appear to be dropping either. So if we value the labour of women when it comes to raising kids so much, why don't we take the man out of the home and off of the street when violence occurs rather than forcing the woman to flee?
And what of this role called mothering? What does it mean to be a mother? We don't spell it out clearly enough methinks, but to my mind mothering involves nurturing, raising, protecting, teaching, guiding, caring, playing, helping, mentoring, setting a good example and being an effective role model.
What about fathering? Not a term we hear as often as mothering, but surely it also means protecting, raising, caring, guiding, nurturing, helping, setting a good example, teaching, playing and being an effective mentor and role model. Notice that all of these attributes are shared by both male and female parents, although unfortunately the onus is still on mothers to do the lion's share of raising kids. Because when are men ever asked, for example, how they'll combine childcare and work?
Notice too that all the qualities of being a good (or good enough) parent are not species-specific. If we really value mothering, shouldn't we recognize and respect the mother-child bond wherever it occurs? Take a look at any undercover footage of factory farming, and you'll see just how much we actually value mothering. Sadly, as with human mothering, not that much.
But veganism can change that. Does change that. And to end this post on a positive note, here's a video of a fabulous new mother, and a nod to two human dads who prove that nurturing, protecting and providing is everyone's job, although these two do it particularly well.